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Kennedy's Death Opens Up Succession Debate04:34

This article is more than 11 years old.

Under Massachusetts law, voters will choose the successor to Sen. Kennedy in a special election in January. But that's too long to wait for many Democrats, because Massachusetts would be without what could be a crucial vote as the U.S. Senate debates health insurance reform, Kennedy's lifelong goal.

Gov. Deval Patrick told WBUR on Wednesday that he supports a change in the law that would give him the authority to appoint an interim successor. "When you think about the momentous change legislation that is pending in the Congress today, Massachusetts needs two voices," Patrick said.

Patrick said he got a call from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was concerned about how fast Massachusetts fills Sen. Kennedy's seat. The Massachusetts Legislature is expected to come back in formal session some time in mid-September. Senate President Therese Murray and Speaker Robert De Leo are gauging sentiment towards changing the law. They won't comment on where they stand.

Republicans, who are far outnumbered in the Legislature, oppose a change. On Wednesday, Senate Republican leader Richard Tisei declined to comment on legislation that would give the governor the power to appoint an interim successor.

"Right now we should all take a time out from politics and people should take some time to remember Sen. Kennedy and really pay tribute to all the work that he did for decades for the commonwealth of Massachusetts," Tisei said. Last week, Tisei pointed out that when Republican Mitt Romney was governor, Democrats passed the law that removed his power to appoint a successor.

In his letter, Sen. Kennedy requested that whoever is appointed to fill his seat make an explicit commitment not to run in the special election that will now be held next January.

It's been a quarter century since there was a race for an open Senate seat in Massachusetts. That's when John Kerry was elected.

Among the Democrats considered to have an interest in running are Boston's two congressmen, Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch. Democratic political consultant Dan Payne says Attorney General Martha Coakley is also considered a contender.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand in Massachusetts to elect a woman, especially to the United States Senate, so she'd have that advantage," Payne said. "Money becomes a very big deal in a special election, because you have to raise a bundle in a hurry, so anybody who's contemplating this is going to have to think about at least $2 to $3 million for a short race, and that rules out a fair number of people who might otherwise be interested."

Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Wednesday he would not run for the Senate. Congressman Ed Markey said it's too soon to talk about who will succeed Sen. Kennedy.

In the money race, former Congressman Marty Meehan, an architect of campaign finance reform, has the advantage. He has $4.8 million in his federal campaign account, but he said he is focused on running the University of Massachusetts at Lowell for now.

Sen. Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, as has his nephew, former Congressman Joseph Kennedy.

On the Republican side, political consultant Eric Fehrnstrom said that in a short race in a state dominated by Democrats, the most obvious Republican candidates are those wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns. Among the people who fit that bill is businessman Chris Egan, the son of Richard Egan — the founder of EMC, the large Hopkinton data storage company.

Fehrnstrom said he would expect Chris Egan to take a serious look at it. "We don't know much about him at this point," he said, "but I think that really presents an opportunity for candidates like him or other ambitious up-and-coming Republicans who want to make a name for himself or herself."

Fehrnstrom predicts that Egan or another fresh Republican candidate will do what Mitt Romney did in his run against Ted Kennedy in 1994: Run and lose, but make a name for himself for the future.

This program aired on August 27, 2009.

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